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Friday, October 1, 2010
Have at It: Staying the course in Green Bay

By Kevin Seifert

Some of you questioned whether there was a true debate within this week's "Have at It." Even in a passing league, can a team with one of the NFL's least explosive rushing games be a legitimate contender to win the Super Bowl?

Brandon Jackson
Brandon Jackson has been bottled up by opposing defenses, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.
Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn have handled the load since Ryan Grant's season-ending injury. After watching that for 2 1/2 games, the asterisk writes: "I sort of like what Kuhn has been doing, but he's a short-yardage back! They should go after any proven runner that's available.... [Marshawn] Lynch would be fine. He's not a superstar, but he's a 1,000-yard rusher with a proven skill set, which is more than we have now. Jackson's not getting it done, he's a decent 3rd-down back, that's all. We need that all-around running back to balance the offense."

If anything, wrote mgregorycortina, Packers fans should have a new appreciation for Grant: "This is great for Ryan Grant's career, by the way. I think Packer fans can recognize that when Jackson or Kuhn don't make a play, Grant could have. Grant is unbelievably subtle. He hits the hole and runs hard. He's the perfect complement to the passing game."

But I was surprised how many of you aren't convinced the Packers need to trade for Lynch or somehow acquire a "name" back. Many of you understand general manager Ted Thompson's usual approach and are hoping he can pull off a repeat performance of 2007, when the Packers first tried Jackson, then DeShawn Wynn and finally turned to Grant around midseason. You're intrigued by rookie Dimitri Nance, signed off the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad two weeks ago, and haven't given up on rookie James Starks, who is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

"This reminds me of early 2007," wrote sgunderson17. "Packers relied on short passes until they found the every down runner. We have yet to see what Dimitri Nance is capable of. And we need to see if Starks can play this year if/when he gets off the PUP list. Early part of the season is fine to not have a running game. But once the snow starts flying, we better get something established."

RLR_41 was among those who were encouraged to see quarterback Aaron Rodgers complete 23 passes of eight or less yards Monday night at Soldier Field in what seemed a proxy for the running game. RLR_41: "I think you also need to take into consideration that some of the throws Rodgers made were in essence running plays. ... These were not check downs, but designed short passes that gained significant yardage. They are not traditional running plays, but serve the same function."

John Kuhn
Fullback John Kuhn is often viewed more as a short-yardage back than someone who can carry the load.
Rhino3662 also identified that possibility but issued a fair warning: "I think [coach Mike McCarthy] truly believes the Packers can make up for the loss of Grant with Kuhn and Jackson and the short passing game. And he may be correct from a production standpoint. However it can still leave the Packers weak in the 4th quarter when it's time to kill the clock. ... But what happens when they just need to run out time? All it takes is a couple incompletions or a sack and suddenly your drive is over and the opposing offense has the ball again."

But no matter what the level of need is, wrote jasfish, why would the Packers leave themselves needing to compensate so significantly in one area when they otherwise appear to have an excellent path laid for a Super Bowl run?

Jasfish: "When the window of opportunity can be so small for a Super Bowl run, it makes no sense not to go for it. ... If Marshawn Lynch can be had for a 2nd round pick, which is high, I think this is one of those years to go for it."

My take? First off, thanks to those of you who pointed out the transposed numbers in the original incarnation of the second chart. Kuhn has rushed for four first downs and one touchdown this season, not the other way around.

Now then. I think if there was ever a time in NFL history to make a deep playoff run without a starting-caliber running back, this is it. Rarely has this league been skewed more toward the passing game, and the Packers have the personnel to pull it off.

But in the long term, you would think they will need more of a backfield threat than they had Monday night. If not, they'll have trouble getting defenses to respect their play-action passes, their options will be limited near the goal line and their offensive line will face a tougher task against opponents who are in a pass-rush mentality all game.

I'm intrigued by Kuhn as a bruiser who could run out the clock in the fourth quarter, especially against a worn-down defense. But it's probably wishful thinking to expect Nance or Starks to emerge as a Grant-like option later in the season. So here's where I land: The NFL trading deadline isn't until Oct. 19. Let's give Jackson and Kuhn another week or two to settle into their new roles before hitting the panic button. The Packers will need more production than they got Monday night, but I don't think that's why they lost to the Chicago Bears. I think 18 penalties had a lot more to do with it.